I recently got the kind of phone call you don’t easily forget…
“Your Dad’s been taken to hospital.”
What started off as suspected food poisoning, turned into pretty scary open-heart surgery during a global pandemic, in a different country where I can no longer reach him because of limited international travel.
Long story short – those of you who know my Dad, know he’s incredibly determined and he’s a fighter so I’m thrilled to tell you he’s OK now and on the mend, but boy has it been a roller-coaster of emotions along the way.
Looking back now, I can see how my DOTS came into play with how I reacted under stress, and what worked, and what didn’t. So I’m sharing this story in the hopes that anyone else going through a stressful situation right now, might find these insights helpful.
When you’re hit with an emotional blow (yes, you can suffer emotional injuries too), how you react is unique to you.
Whether you go internal – shut down and simply stop communicating.
Or external – scream out for help, telling anyone who will listen what you’re going through.
There’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to react.
There’s only ‘different’ reactions.
And those reactions have a lot to do with your natural communication styles (what we call your DOTS).
So there I was, learning that my Dad was in pretty rough shape and I was at home, in isolation with a Red Dot (honest, blunt and unemotional type) while I was in stressed Blue Dot mode (caring, but easily hurt and highly emotional).
Just imagine it.
The Red Dot was trying to reassure me with direct, factual information “the likelihood of him surviving the surgery is high, he should be fine, there’s no need to worry.”
Meanwhile, my Blue Dot was screaming out for comfort, needing to talk through my feelings and just wanting a shoulder to cry on.
Things got tense.
Throw in a bit of my Yellow Dot which was feeling flustered that the house was a mess during isolation (Yellow’s need a tidy space) as his Purple Dot was spreading chaos everywhere he went (Purple’s spread their things out and don’t really give mess a second thought).
We realised pretty quickly that we were operating from different worlds, and it wasn’t working for either of us.
In moments like this, we have to keep reminding ourselves that no one’s a mind-reader.
I had to tell him what I needed from him, and vice-versa.
I started with “I know you’re trying to help, and I appreciate that, but what works for YOU in this kind of situation may not work for me… I don’t need facts or information right now, I need hugs.
I don’t need you to tell me it’s most likely going to be OK, because you don’t know that for sure, but just tell me that whatever happens, you’ll be there for me.”
His first response – “But how are hugs going to solve anything right now…?”
I can laugh about it now, but at the time I was in tears.
The thing is, in his world, he was responding in the best way he knew how.
His natural reaction was – there’s a problem, how can I solve it?
Sometimes we get caught up in trying to solve someone’s problem (when often, in reality, we can’t) instead of just being there for them to help them get through it.
He was trying to help me by telling me the things he would want to hear himself, if he was ever in that situation.
For him, what would help is knowing the likelihood of survival of the surgery. The percentages, figures, facts, other examples of similar surgeries etc.
Information would reassure him, make him feel better.
But that didn’t work for me.
And that’s OK.
What works for someone else during a crisis won’t necessarily work for you.
That’s why you can be coached by the best fitness instructors in the world, yet still not lose weight.
Or watch a thousand YouTube tutorials and still struggle to play the guitar.
Because we’re all a little different.
Once we discussed what we each needed, we got rid of the guesswork and were able to help each other in ways that actually worked for us.
So what WILL work for you in times of stress, is getting really clued-up on your own inner-workings.
Start to learn how you operate.
What makes you tick?
What do you need from others?
When you’re under stress, are you quite Purple – you don’t ‘need’ help, you just need some space and freedom to do your own thing.
Or more Yellow – you need to get organised, create a detailed plan or timeline of what you want to achieve.
Or perhaps you’re Red – you need facts. You won’t take someone elses’ word as truth, you’ll gather all the information you need to make your own decision about what actions you’ll take.
Or Blue – you need to get a ‘feel’ for things, once something feels right you’ll trust your gut more than logic.
Perhaps you’re a mix of a few of these reactions, whatever the case, get clued up on what you need to do to feel less stressed, and then get curious about other people, so that you can do the same for them.
If you’re going through a stressful situation right now, or would like to be prepared for the future, my biggest piece of advice is to start learning about yourself.
Get curious about how you operate and be open with others about what you actually need.
Remember, we’re not mind-readers.
If you need help, ask for it.
Stay safe everyone,
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